A Wife’s Protest

##.
1Like a white snowdrop in the spring
2    From child to girl I grew,
3And thought no thought, and heard no word
4    That was not pure and true.
##.
5And when I came to seventeen,
6    And life was fair and free,
7A suitor, by my father's leave,
8    Was brought one day to me.
##.
9"Make me the happiest man on earth,"
10    He whispered soft and low.
11My mother told me it was right
12    I was too young to know.
##.
13And then they twined my bridal wreath
14    And placed it on my brow.
15It seems like fifty years ago --
16    And I am twenty now.
##.
17My star, that barely rose, is set;
18    My day of hope is done --
19My woman's life of love and joy --
20    Ere it has scarce begun.
##.
21Hourly I die -- I do not live --
22    Though still so young and strong.
23No dumb brute from his brother brutes
24    Endures such wanton wrong.
##.
25A smouldering shame consumes me now --
26    It poisons all my peace;
27An inward torment of reproach
28    That never more will cease.
##.
29O how my spirit shrinks and sinks
30    Ere yet the light is gone!
31What creeping terrors chill my blood
32    As each black night draws on!
##.
33I lay me down upon my bed,
34    A prisoner on the rack,
35And suffer dumbly, as I must,
36    Till the kind day comes back.
##.
37Listening from heavy hour to hour
38    To hear the church-clock toll --
39A guiltless prostitute in flesh,
40    A murderess in soul.
##.
41Those church-bells chimed the marriage chimes
42    When he was wed to me,
43And they must knell a funeral knell
44    Ere I again am free.
##.
45I did not hate him then; in faith
46    I vowed the vow "I will;"
47Were I his mate, and not his slave,
48    I could perform it still.
##.
49But, crushed in these relentless bonds
50    I blindly helped to tie,
51With one way only for escape,
52    I pray that he may die.
##.
53O to possess myself once more,
54    Myself so stained and maimed!
55O to make pure these shuddering limbs
56    That loveless lust has shamed!
##.
57But beauty cannot be restored
58    Where such a blight has been,
59And all the rivers in the world
60    Can never wash me clean.
##.
61I go to church; I go to court;
62    No breath of scandal flaws
63The lustre of my fair repute;
64    For I obey the laws.
##.
65My ragged sister of the street,
66    Marked for the world's disgrace,
67Scarce dares to lift her sinful eyes
68    To the great lady's face.
##.
69She hides in shadows as I pass --
70    On me the sunbeams shine;
71Yet, in the sight of God, her stain
72    May be less black than mine.
##.
73Maybe she gave her all for love,
74    And did not count the cost;
75If so, her crown of womanhood
76    Was not ignobly lost.
##.
77Maybe she wears those wretched rags,
78    And starves from door to door,
79To keep her body for her own
80    Since it may love no more.
##.
81If so, in spite of church and law,
82    She is more pure than I;
83The latchet of those broken shoes
84    I am not fit to tie:
##.
85That hungry baby at her breast --
86    Sign of her fallen state --
87Nature, who would but mock at mine,
88    Has made legitimate.
##.
89Poor little "love-child" -- spurned and scorned,
90    Whom church and law disown,
91Thou hadst thy birthright when the seed
92    Of thy small life was sown.
##.
93O Nature, give no child to me,
94    Whom Love must ne'er embrace!
95Thou knowest I could not bear to look
96    On its reproachful face.
Publication Notes: 
Unspoken Thoughts (New South Wales: English Department, University College, 1988): 65.
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire